VanDyke is pursuing a Ph.D. in Middle Eastern studies at Georgetown University. He stayed in Libya for a while in 2008 as part of a journey he took in order to gain first-hand knowledge of the Arab world. During his stay in Libya, he made several friends and kept in touch with them via the Internet. As the recent events in the Middle East began to unfold, Matthew stayed in daily contact with friends in several of the countries, but especially Libya. After clashes erupted in Libya, he felt compelled to go and morally support his Libyan friends. VanDyke decided to go to Benghazi instead of Tripoli as he was opposed to Muammar Gaddafi's regime.
His mother, Sharon VanDyke, says she has heard no word from her son since March 13. She recently traveled to Ankara to ask the Turkish authorities for help. Sharon VanDyke confirms that what urged her son to travel to Libya was an email from one of his Libyan friends, who asked him to tell the story of Libya if he dies.
She says she contacted several institutions and politicians in the US but did not get very far. She decided to travel to Ankara upon learning that the US had shut down its embassy in Libya and was operating through the Turkish Embassy in Tripoli. Officials from the Turkish Foreign Ministry, she said, have taken her request seriously and she has expressed hope in the Turkish officials' ability to find her son as soon as possible.